The most prolific serial killer in recorded history was a health worker. Charles Cullen confessed to having caused the death of forty patients during his career as a nurse in New Jersey. Investigations made it clear that the victims were more, and experts estimated that Cullen may ultimately have been responsible for four hundred deaths. The person who brought him down, putting an end to these horrific murders, was a good nurse: Amy Loughren.
Academy Award nominee director Tobias Lindholm brings this compelling story to Netflix with The Good Nurse, penned by Scottish screenwriter, Oscar nominee Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Amy (Jessica Chastain) is a compassionate nurse and single mother of two, struggling with cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening heart condition. She urgently needs a heart transplant, but hasn’t accumulated the sufficient time at work for her health insurance to cover it. The demanding night shifts at the ICU and complexity of raising her children on her own seem overwhelming, until she becomes friends with a new colleague: Charlie (Eddie Redmayne). He is an empathetic man who has the ability to endear her by concealing her health condition and befriending her daughters. But everything changes when officers Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) and Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) start investigating the murder of a patient at Parkfield hospital where Amy and Charlie work. The good nurse realises that insulin and digoxin is being injected in the IV saline solutions, causing the death of the patients.
The gripping crime drama — that is based on true events and was presented at the Toronto International Film Festival — is suspenseful in the way it unfolds. Jody Lee Lipes’ grainy cinematography not only leads you back in time to the early 2000s, but it bestows an eerie allure that is perfectly fitting for the thrilling narrative. Jessica Chastain is exceptional in interiorising the turmoil of the good nurse who has to help uncover the truth. Eddie Redmayne’s chameleon ability to morph his posture, expressions and entire persona according to the role is overwhelming. Audiences already had a glimpse of his transformative skills in his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, that won him an Academy Award, but his latest performance will give you chills. He is utterly enthralling in the way he plays Cullen, because Charlie is not immediately sinister. Redmayne’s performance is gentle at times, but infused with a fair amount of confusion. This Hitchcockian trait makes the denouement more enigmatic, as audiences wonder whether there is a plot twist lurking around the corner that may exonerate the apparent suspect.
The Good Nurse rather than focusing on the sensationalistic serial killer, adopts the perspective of the silent heroine, the secret informant who — contrarily to the hospitals where Charlie worked — did not cover up the liabilities. In fact, the film uncovers the hypocrisy of the healthcare system that did not expose Cullen’s actions in nine hospitals across the country. In these regards the film remains faithful to the inspiring novel with the same name written by Charles Graeber. The shocking aspect of this story is how Cullen’s deeds were not unknown, but rather kept concealed by the hospital lawyers and administrators who would rather fire him than report the crimes that would lead to lawsuits involving the health institutions. This allowed the nurse-killer to perpetrate his killings throughout his sixteen-year career as a nurse. In this way the message that seems to come across in The Good Nurse is how America’s health care system is the real villain.
Final Grade: A